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Federal Judge to Consider Oklahoma City Bomber Timothy McVeigh's Request to End Appeals Process

Aired December 28, 2000 - 1:09 p.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

ANDRIA HALL, CNN ANCHOR: A federal judge is set to consider Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh's request that his appeals process be ended. Now that is different. McVeigh was convicted in the April 1995 blast that killed 168 people in Oklahoma.

A hearing on McVeigh's request will get under way in Denver, Colorado, in less than two hours from now.

Let's take it live to CNN's Lilian Kim, who joins us from Colorado with details.

Lilian, what you can tell us about this?

LILIAN KIM, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Andria, Timothy McVeigh sits on death row in a federal penitentiary in Indiana. But today, McVeigh will appear in court here in Denver through a video conference call.

In a hearing later today, U.S. District Judge Richard Matsch will ask McVeigh questions and assess whether he is competent. The convicted bomber has asked the judge to put a stop to the appeals process and set an execution date.

The 32-year-old was convicted three years ago of the 1995 bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City. Since then, he has been sentenced to death and his request for a new trial have been turned down.

After today's hearing, Judge Matsch may grant McVeigh's request to stop the appeals process and set an execution date. He could also deny the request or he could order a competency hearing. McVeigh hasn't explained why he wants to speed up the process, but his lead attorneys says conditions in federal prison may have something to do with it.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DENNIS HARTLEY, MCVEIGH LEAD COUNSEL: I don't know why he wants to make this decision, nor could I tell you if I did know, but it could be that he is just tired, tired of the system and the lockdown is fairly restrictive. Well, it is not fairly restrictive, it is absolutely restrictive.

(END VIDEO CLIP) KIM: The Oklahoma City bombing was the worst act of terrorism on U.S. soil. The bombing killed 168 people and injured more than 500. Today's hearing will begin at 1:00 p.m. local time and is expected to wrap up in less than an hour.

Lilian Kim, CNN, Denver, Colorado.

HALL: Thank you, and now to Lou.

WATERS: OK, Andria, we have our legal analyst Roger Cossack with us. I can't expect you to know what his attorney doesn't know, but what would you expect the purpose of this exercise is?

ROGER COSSACK, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, you know, who knows, as you say, what's in his mind? Who knows if it's because he's just gotten tired of waiting for what he feels is the inevitable and he wants it over? He's in a very tough prison, where it's lockdown 24 hours a day. It is maximum security. Or who knows that perhaps he feels that he is a martyr to the system or that he is a political prisoner? You know, it's impossible to know what's in his mind.

WATERS: You think he might want to die?

COSSACK: I think he probably knows that eventually the legal system is most likely going to put him to death -- you never know what's going to happen in a courtroom. He's gone through appeals, some appeals so far and he hasn't been successful, and perhaps he just feels that his last act is to be able, in some ways, to control when he dies.

WATERS: Of course, there is one option that not too many people are talking about, as unlikely as it is, there is always the chance of a presidential pardon here. He is not really erasing all of his options?

COSSACK: That's true. But I suppose that if these -- if he's banking on the fact that he's going to get a presidential pardon, I would not buy any long-term life insurance.

WATERS: What are the judge's options here today? At the end of this hearing, is there going to be an execution date set? Are they set by the judge?

COSSACK: You lose a couple of different options that they have. One of the concerns here, when someone makes a motion like this, that says I want to give up all hope, and I want to die. The law is concerned with whether or not he is competent. Does he know what he is doing? It doesn't say that he can't do it, but he has to knows what he's doing.

And so the judge will question him, regarding his competency. Does he understand what he's doing? Does he understand, by withdrawing his appeals, that he is. in effect, signing a death warrant, saying that the court has no other option but to impose the sentence, the sentence of course being death? I believe there is a statute that says it can't happen any sooner than 120 days, four months, but it could happen on the 122nd day. I'm not saying it will, but it would be a lot closer than further away.

And I think the court wants to make sure that he understands what he's doing, and that he legitimately is giving up those rights.

WATERS: All right, Roger Cossack and, of course, as Roger says, the judge will be questioning Timothy McVeigh. He's in a federal penitentiary in Terre Haute, Indiana, the judge is in Denver, Colorado, where the hearing will be today. They'll be hooked up by video link. So the questions will be asked by the judge and we'll continue to follow the story. We will know more about it as soon as the hearing is over.

TO ORDER A VIDEO OF THIS TRANSCRIPT, PLEASE CALL 800-CNN-NEWS OR USE OUR SECURE ONLINE ORDER FORM LOCATED AT www.fdch.com

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